Don’t know if it works but let’s spend billions on it

Don’t know if it works but let’s spend billions on it

Turns out my reblog of Diane Ravitch’s NPR interview was more timely than I thought. Billions of dollars have been spent in California and only one week of teaching/learning has resulted. All due to the corporate mentality administrators and CEOs apply regarding who should be creating/running the learning environment in schools.

This link will take you to the full version of Alan Singer’s blog for The Huffington Post, excerpted here: “A different question, but I think an even larger question, is whether teachers should be using scripted online Pearson lessons and assessments. I do not remember any public discussion over whether Pearson should decide what gets taught in American schools.”


Education is not a consumer product

My response to a Roanoke Times commentary from July 7, 2013, on the NCTQ report:

Education is Not a Consumer Product

Who defines a quality teacher preparation program?

Apparently, the National Council of Teacher Quality does. But under what authority? With what data? And whose agenda is being served? NCTQ is using its unsanctioned bully pulpit to coerce teacher preparation programs to play ball or be pilloried in the national media.

According to Karla Bruno’s July 7 commentary (“How well do Virginia colleges teach the teachers?”), “NCTQ provides a much-needed, outside-in assessment of teacher training.” To give a bit of background information: NCTQ recently sent notices to teacher prep programs throughout the country, more than 1,100 institutions in all, to let them know how miserably most of them scored on NCTQ’s 17 performance standards.

Before you sigh in dismay at the sorry state of teacher education in the U. S., you should also know that NCTQ used such invalid and unreliable research practices to study such woefully insufficient “data” that any “findings” reported become laughable.

In the 112-page report is an exhaustive array of charts, graphs and text supposedly related to methodology and findings, but there are no specific instruments, protocols or data that lend credence to its claims. References to the collection of course syllabi and evaluation of the coursework there included is confusing; how many pieces of student work did they analyze to gain this data? Apparently none. And what about the research related to classroom instruction? Did on-site evaluators visit these programs and use the syllabi to observe for congruency? How many times did they visit? Using what instruments?

NCTQ did not visit; not one site. It did no interviews with college instructors, students, administrators or local schools where student teachers are placed. All data were collected by off-site means, most commonly via FOIA and by searching online for what was already publicly available.

But no matter; how important is evidence when one has assumption, intuition and the opinions of a collective of unnamed authors? As longtime educator Jack Hassard states in a National Education Policy Center article, “The NCTQ is a wonderful example of not only junk thought, but is the epitome of junk science.”

The fact that the majority of teacher prep programs did not give NCTQ access to their data has been construed by Bruno as avoidance of accountability, but these actions do not reveal a program compliance or accountability issue. Contrary to Bruno’s contention that “academe . . . [is] an insular world that protects what information it has and rarely agrees to gather more,” colleges and universities must prove themselves to many constituents, including, but not limited to, accrediting bodies, religious affiliates and licensing boards. In the case of teacher preparation programs in Virginia, yearly reporting requirements include sending data on student GPA, course content (both inside and outside the teacher prep program), field experience hours/activities, instructor credentials and much more to local, state and national education entities.

Teacher preparation programs are not afraid of scrutiny; they are unwilling to participate in poorly designed research that serves no purpose but to drive the political agenda and financial interests of NCTQ.

College and university teacher preparation programs “applauding the NCTQ effort” would be a capitulation to the idea that educators are “trained” rather than prepared. Training implies rote adherence to prescribed doctrine, generally applied to those in need of behavioral controls. Such practices turn education into the “product” of which Bruno says we are consumers.

Herein lies the foundational problem with NCTQ and Bruno’s support of its educational philosophy: Education is not a consumer product to be standardized and homogenized. It is a process built on relationships among the learner, the parent, the teacher and the community. Schools, whether K-12 or college level, are not factories; they are communities of learners. No one is consuming anything; they are creating knowledge. Knowledge is not a commodity to be bartered. People gain it through a process of encountering, manipulating, reflecting on and finally internalizing information.

Public school teachers and administrators have already been hamstrung by the education accountability measures in place throughout the U.S. Colleges and universities must remain the places where individualization is not only allowed, but encouraged. If college faculties become bound to arbitrary guidelines set by those with unseen agendas, education may become completely bastardized by those operating under the auspices of reform.

“In addition to…

“In addition to Co-CEOs Doug McCurry and Dacia Toll, the Achievement First management team includes a Vice President for Information Technology, a Chief of Staff, a Senior Director of Talent Development, seven (7) Regional Superintendents, a Senior Director of Facilities, a Chief Academic Officer, a Chief Information Officer, a Senior Adviser, a Vice President for Recruitment, a Vice President for, Leadership Development, a Vice President for Business Information Systems, a Chief External Officer, a Senior Director for Data Strategy, a Senior Director for Strategic Partnerships, a Senior Director for Marketing & Communications, a Vice President for Development, a Chief Financial and Operating Officer, a Vice President for School Operations, a Vice President for External Relations and a Senior Director for Human Capital”

Complete blog at


Need I say more about top-heavy education administrations?


Value: We’re getting this all wrong

You can’t go home again, right? And many of us wouldn’t want to; but the past is a fun place to visit, especially for 7 friends who haven’t all been together for over 30 years. A few in the group have stayed close; one might surmise that those closer associations run along an educational line – those who went to college, those who got married right out of high school, etc., but that is not the case. Turns out what we had in common had little to do with our educational paths and more to do with our life experiences and values.

This all became obvious as we gave an accounting of ourselves – schools, marriages, kids, jobs. Family ties held many of us to the area; others had moved far and wide; some we’re simply missing in action, chained to negative relationships that tend to retard personal growth.

Always the analyst/observer, I studied the women I had grown up with and realized how we had all come together. We were in the “smart classes” at school. That grouping now comprises an academic, an administrative clerk, an insurance sales person, a massage therapist, an architect, a non-profit administrator, and a medical transcriptionist. Only three of us completed college, though at one point or another all of us have taken college courses.

I guess I should ramble on to my point…

why did some of the smartest girls in the school, tracked into the college-bound courses early on, not all go/finish?

Impediments both real and perceived.

Socially, this group came from the poor side of town. General expectations were low and the path to college obscured by ignorance of the road signs. Lack of school guidance beyond the middle school years was another factor, as was familial responsibility.

So, how did we all succeed in  life? How did we all become professional women with responsible, fulfilling careers?

We were educated in a public school by teachers who were able to teach us how to learn. And that most important lesson enabled us to draw upon that knowledge even years later and in a multitude of circumstances. For all the failings of the system in guiding us as closely as might have been useful, the teaching was more than enough! Career educators with deep commitments to their calling are responsible for enabling our successes.

Yet, we hold these very folks in such low esteem today, that we evaluate them with invalid instruments and sanction them as if they were recalcitrant children. And then we expect them to positively affect the life prospects of children. The amazing thing is, that they often accomplish that Herculean task! But the cost to them is so high, the path so steep – not to do the teaching part of the job, but to meet all of the inane administrative obligations – that they give up on what’s important in order to accomplish the inane. And then we sanction them for failing.

We were all ultimately responsible for our own learning, but we needed those teachers to open the doors with their information and to push us through a bit with their heart and passion for learning.

That 21st century world we are supposedly educating children for has very similar obstacles to the 20th century one that sent us down such different paths. Our children need the intellectual skills that will allow them to carve their own ways through their particular obstacles, not a rote set of facts and figures memorized for a test.

Show respect for what (and who) is truly valuable. Let teachers do the jobs they know how to do, the best way they know how to do them.

One night in 2043, over drinks and dinner, a group of friends will thank you.

Who’s irresponsible here?

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

Tennessee legislators are tying test scores to benefits for poor children and their families via SB 132 and HB 261 – the bills have passed in both houses. Are we really that sure that the tests are valid? Sure enough to connect these high stakes tests to kids’ access to food and shelter?

Apparently, the impetus is to get supposedly neglectful parents to be more responsible in their efforts to

assure their children’s educational progress. Though that may be a fine theoretical idea, there are many unproven assumptions implicit in it:

1) Neglectful parents – all children who do not achieve proficient scores on standardized tests have parents who don’t care for them.

2) Educational progress – children who achieve proficient scores on standardized tests are well-educated and will reap the benefits of that educational status.

3) Educational progress – children who do NOT achieve proficient scores on standardized tests are poorly educated and destined for life-long failure.

Each of these assumptions is erroneous. All can be proven incorrect in a number of cases. But – it’s OK to base legislation on such fallacious thinking.

Where does the stupidity end?

You Want Real Change? Ask the Real Experts

“We’re on our third principal in a year and half – no one feels any security here; two of them were there in the morning and gone by the afternoon – moved to other schools.”

I had this conversation in the aisle of a local thrift store with a teacher who is on her “third tour of duty,” one she considers positive at the moment.  But what about next year, or next week for that matter?  If the classroom can change as quickly as the office does, she can’t feel too secure either.

We talked about community and knowing the kids and all that other “teacher talk” we lapse DILO March 06 - Teacher with Students - 7:33 AMinto when chatting with other teachers.  Teachers are tied to one another by the job, even after we stop doing it.  Teachers know what it takes to make the classroom work.  They can identify those things that do NOT work for their students – or them.  So why are so few people asking teachers how to fix education?

Much lip service is given to the notion that teachers served on the committees that produced the Common Core Standards as well as state assessments.  That is true, but the limitations of that committee service are hard to discern.  Were there many teachers involved? How many?  At what level?  In which states?  How were the teachers chosen?  And what about the state-wide tests that are now connected to the CCSS?  Were teachers involved with those too?  Did they have a voice in how or when students are tested?  In the format of the tests?  In the methods mandated for test review/remediation?

In trying to find the answers to these questions, one becomes mired in documents that have similar vague references to the diverse group that informed the content of the standards initiative.  Did anyone ask large groups of teachers their opinions on the implementation and testing of country-wide content standards? I don’t think they did.  In fact, the government-corporate partnership that led this initiative castigated the large bodies of teachers – in some cases teachers unions – as groups of people selfishly focused on their own needs, disregarding those of their students.

Michelle Ree recently accused teachers in Seattle of distracting students by acting against the students’ best interests. This blatant attempt to further disparage teachers in the eyes of the country backfired in some circles, as seen in Jesse Hagopian’s article. These teachers were, in fact, supporting their students and their parents in the boycott of one of the state’s several standardized tests.

But back to my teacher friend with the serial principals. In her inner-city school she reports that A teacher works with special needs students at...many wonderful things are going on – creative music programs, honors programs that motivate learners, after-school activities.  I asked how the administrators structured in these positive interludes to the test-oriented environment I know exists in her district. Her answer was not surprising: “oh, it isn’t the administrators;” turns out it’s happening because some creative, motivated teachers saw the need and have taken on the extra tasks and committed to them with gusto.

Now don’t get me wrong – administration still had to at least “allow” these efforts and hard-working teachers are a great thing – but for the school and its students, what happens when those teachers get transferred next year, or move, or burn out, or have a new administrator who is non-supportive of the effort?

We all know what happens – the wonderful, creative efforts die on the vine because they are only one teacher deep.  They are not part of a community of education, a part rooted so deeply in the school that the efforts continue even when one teacher moves, or one administrator leaves.  They continue because there are enough people who care about the whole school community that they are able to absorb minor changes.

Schools, teachers and students, however, cannot absorb entire overhauls of staff that happen in revolving-door fashion. This type of top-down management devalues the human quality of education. It engenders a robot-like approach to the teaching – and administering for that matter – that makes education community development nearly impossible.  The lip service this district gives to retention of personnel is ironic in these situations.

Another insidious outcome of this kind of management is that teachers are unable to form relationships among themselves and with their administrators.  This lack of cohesiveness keeps them from meaningful collaboration opportunities, supportive work communities, deep knowledge of their students, and the caring that can only develop when an educator becomes a part of the community in which they work.  Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think this is the intent, not a by-product of such management styles.English: Teachers from the Exploratorium's Tea...

When the top administration in a district wants to keep people in line, impeding relationship building is a great tactic. It is much easier to control people who feel vulnerable and isolated than those empowered by collegiality to stand up for what they know is right.

Teachers have enormous potential to right what is wrong with education.  But they can only do such difficult, important work if they have the necessary tools:

  1. A supportive, knowledgeable administrator who respects and trusts in the professionalism of her teachers and relies on them to do their jobs.
  2. Freedom to decide the what, when, how and why in their classrooms because teachers are on the front line of education and must make decisions accordingly.
  3. Freedom from oppressive evaluatory practices that demean and blame teachers when they cannot meet unrealistic or invalid goals.
  4. Curriculum inclusive enough to value the aspirations of all students, not just those who plan to attend a 4-year, traditional college.

In return, teachers must accept (as I believe most do) the responsibilities of educating students:

  1. Caring enough about the students to learn who they are and what they need.
  2. Teaching every child, not just the ones who learn easily or behave well.
  3. Motivating students to achieve the educational goals set by their community.
  4. Staying current in both their content areas and the methodologies of teaching.

These lists appear simplistic and generic, but they represent a huge paradigm shift from the business model that has become the U. S. educational norm.  The suggestions are not meant to become a one-size-fits-all standard.  This paradigm decreases the role of administration, especially above the principal level – and empowers teachers to take on the role for which they were trained.  The shift to the most localized interaction, that of teacher and student, is the shift that will bring about transformation.